Following a 2013 season where they scored more points than any team but Denver, the Chicago Bears anticipated challenging for a division crown in 2014 and possibly even contend for NFC supremecy.
Instead, the substantial regression of the offense has conspired with another abysmal year of defensive health to put the Bears out of the mix at 5-7 and their coach on the hot seat. They will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season since hosting the NFC Championship Game in 2010.
Let’s examine some of the spots on the Bears’ roster:
RB Matt Forte
When it comes to sustained excellence, no other back in the league can match the seven-year career of Forte from a total-yards perspective. He has more than 11,000 yards from scrimmage and averages about 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving each season.
His quickness has been his best attribute, and he is dangerous catching passes out of the backfield. However, the talk in Chicago centers around the play-calling against Detroit on Thanksgiving that resulted in 51 pass attempts for quarterback Jay Cutler and only five carries for Forte.
Based on the public outcry and the Eagles’ success on the ground in last week’s win over the Cowboys, it is not unreasonable to assume that Forte will be worked heavily Thursday. He provides a very difficult skill set to defend, especially in space.
DE Willie Young
After spending $67 million on Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen to rebuild their pass rush last spring, the Bears gave Young a three-year, $9 million deal after many years in the Detroit Lions’ rotation.
Young has proved to be a very effective pass rusher off the left edge with his impressive array of quickness and a bull rush that occasionally shoves linemen right back into the quarterback with surprising ease.
He may be best remembered by Cowboys fans for his sack against Tony Romo in 2011 in the final minute of a 34-30 comeback win in Arlington when Young blasted Tyron Smith out of the way in a fashion never witnessed before or since.
Seven of Young’s team-high eight sacks came in the first six games of the season, but his flashes have evaporated considerably since his snaps have increased when Houston was injured against New England.
RG Kyle Long
Kyle is part of the Long family that includes his father, Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother, St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long. Kyle, 6-6, 315 pounds, started just four games at Oregon before being selected in the first round of the 2013 draft.
In fact, he was selected 20th, two slots after the Cowboys were to select before they traded back to 31 where they took Travis Frederick, with reports being that Dallas did not see Long as a first-round talent. Plugged in a right guard as a rookie, Long has improved as a pass protector and run blocker.
Despite his uncommon height for a guard, he combines impressive strength with the ability to play low and maintain leverage, making him an ideal fit to stop any threats of inside pressure.